The government has promised to set up the Special Prosecutor’s Office to prosecute public officials by the end of 2017. It has also pledged that amendments to the Criminal Code to make corruption a felony, instead of a misdemeanour, will also be made by the end of the year. The Vice-President, Alhaji Dr Mahamadu Bawumia, made these pledges at a regional workshop on Beneficial Ownership Transparency Champions in Accra yesterday. “These are, indeed, some of the actions we intend to implement this year,” he told participants from Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana. Organised by Transparency International (TI) and its local chapter, the Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII), with the support of UKAid, the two-day seminar aims at mobilising support for the sharing and use of information on beneficial ownership. In May 2016, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria made commitments at an anti-corruption summit in the UK to establish beneficial ownership registers. “We will work to ensure that beneficial ownership information can be used effectively to detect and fight corruption…” the three countries had pledged in a communique issued after the summit. Beneficial ownership Beneficial ownership relates to the control, ownership and beneficiaries of the proceeds of a legal entity, such as a company. Generally, companies are set up with shareholders or nominees who are individuals or groups registered as the legal owners but who, sometimes, do not exercise any control over the benefits of the company. That enables individuals to launder stolen funds through the companies or trust funds by using these corporate entities as a front to hide their real identities. Urgency Dr Bawumia said indications from the World Bank and the World Economic Forum were that about $1.25 trillion was lost annually through bribes, while five per cent of global annual GDP, about $2.5 trillion, was lost through corruption. He said figures from OXFAM also showed that poor countries lost $170 billion in tax evasion, with the organisation concluding that a fraction of the amount could fund health services to save the lives of about 150 million children. He said it was against that backdrop that the UK Anti-corruption Summit was organised last year, attended by former President John Mahama. Committed While acknowledging the effort, Vice-President Bawumia said the new government was fully committed to the campaign, saying that with the help of the country’s development partners, it would ensure the provision of the needed funding for the full implementation of the commitments, which included beneficial ownership, contract transparency, transparency on commodity markets, preventing the facilitation of corruption and transparency in the procurement process. He said the UK summit was also to mobilise support for the country’s National Anti-Corruption Action Plan (NACAP), the Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda (GSGDA), other commitments under the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), as well as other regional and international instruments. Progress “Mr Chairman, I am glad to inform you that Ghana, compared to its counterparts, has made tremendous progress after last year’s summit in London,” Dr Bawumia reported to participants. He said a consultative workshop on beneficial ownership had been organised in April 2016 for state and non-state actors, while the Company’s Act had been amended to make provision for beneficial ownership in Ghana. Additionally, the country had met the deadline for the submission of a beneficial ownership road map to the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) Secretariat in December 2016. Care “Ladies and gentlemen, the Ghanaian government recognises the huge financial implication of this commitment to our already constrained fiscal space. However, we are resolved to make the needed resources available for Ghana to put in place an effective and efficient beneficial ownership regime,” Dr Alhaji Bawumia said. He cautioned, however, that care had to be taken in the effort in order not to unnecessarily expose people to criminal attacks. Panama papers The Chairman of the Board of GII, Mr I.K. Gyasi, who chaired the opening session, said beneficial ownership gained prominence with the Panama papers last year that revealed the fraudulent acquisition of funds and their hiding in phantom firms by about 12 national leaders and 143 politicians. He, therefore, underscored the importance of open registers of beneficial owners and expressed appreciation for the workshop to mobilise on the effort. The Executive Director of the GII, Mrs Linda Ofori Kwafo, welcoming participants, said resources were needed to carry through the campaign.
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